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Beyond the Rollercoaster: Understanding Mood Swings

It is normal to have occasional mood swings, especially during times of transition, pressure, stress, or loss. However, if you’re having sudden mood swings that are intense and frequent at times when you least expect them, it can be a signal that there might be an underlying issue.

If you’ve ever been sleep-deprived or “hangry,” you’ve likely experienced a “rollercoaster” of atypical emotions along with it. You may go from being happy and excited to agitated and snappy within minutes. 

Everyone has mood swings, which are defined as rapid and intense changes in mood. But not everyone experiences them to the same degree or frequency. 

Here, we cover what causes mood swings, when to be concerned, and how to better manage them when they arise.

Is It Normal to Have Mood Swings?

It is normal to have occasional mood swings, especially during times of transition, pressure, stress, or loss. However, if you’re having sudden mood swings that are intense and frequent at times when you least expect them, it can be a signal that there might be an underlying issue.

If you’re experiencing mood swings that interfere with your day-to-day life or are causing problems within your work, education, or relationships, it may be time to schedule a conversation with a health professional.

Causes of Mood Swings

Mood swings can be caused by both internal and external factors. Certain situations, age, diet, and sleep patterns can all be natural causes of mood swings. Here are some of the most common reasons people may experience quick changes in mood.

Development and Hormones

Abnormal levels of estrogen, testosterone, serotonin, and thyroid hormones are common and natural causes of mood swings. This is why changes in mood are often reported as symptoms of hormone-involved processes like:

  • Menstruation
  • Puberty
  • Pregnancy
  • Menopause

Some of these hormonal imbalances fade with time, while others may require treatment.

Mental Health Disorders

Many mental health conditions are classified as mood disorders, which means they primarily affect your emotions. Examples of mood disorders include:

While mood disorders are best known for having emotion-related symptoms, other mental health conditions can also affect your mood, such as:

The good news is treatment for most mental health disorders is highly effective, with 65% of those who have been diagnosed with a serious mental illness experiencing a partial or full recovery.


Many medications can cause mood swings as a side effect. Ironically, this is common even among medications used to treat mood disorders. That’s why it’s important to work closely with a team of psychiatric professionals to find the medicine that best fits your needs.

Types of medications associated with mood swings include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-anxiety drugs
  • Sleep medications
  • Stimulants
  • Oral contraceptives
  • Opioids

Underlying Health Conditions

Sudden changes in mood can also be a sign of underlying medical conditions that aren’t related to mental health, including:

  • Thyroid disorders
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • HIV

Mood swings caused by medical conditions can be direct or indirect, meaning they may have a direct effect on hormones or the brain, or they can trigger emotions related to the stress of managing a chronic illness.

External Factors

Sometimes, mood swings directly result from our lifestyle or what’s happening in the world around us. External factors that can cause mood swings include:

  • Stress: Facing challenges, unexpected situations, new routines, and deadlines can cause temporary or long-term stress, which can influence your mood. Stress is linked to feelings of anxiety, restlessness, sadness, lack of motivation, and more.
  • Diet: A lack of proper nutrition and eating too much sugar can change the way your brain functions. These changes can affect your mood or make the symptoms of mood disorders worse.
  • Lack of sleep: Mood and sleep are closely related. Research shows that even partial sleep deprivation can lead to feelings of agitation, anger, depression, and exhaustion.
  • Caffeine: Drinking too much coffee or caffeine can aggravate feelings of depression, anxiety, fatigue, excitement, and trouble concentrating.

Tips to Manage Sudden Mood Swings

Just because mood swings are common doesn’t mean they’re always easy to manage. If you feel like you’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster of sudden mood swings, here are some tips to help you feel better.

Take Care of Your Physical Health

Regular exercise has been shown to improve symptoms of depression and anxiety, and following a healthy diet can help promote a balanced mood. Sleep is also important, as sleep quality strongly affects one’s mood the following day.

Consider creating a weekly routine that improves your physical activity, sleep habits, and nutrition. Avoid the urge to reach for highly processed comfort foods when you’re feeling down by keeping healthier snack options, such as carrots and hummus, on hand.

Make Time for Self-Care

Everyone can benefit from setting aside time to focus on activities that relax and bring them joy. If you’re feeling unusually irritable or sad, try engaging in self-care activities like:

  • Taking a bath
  • Listening to music
  • Calling a friend
  • Starting a gratitude journal
  • Working on a creative project you enjoy
  • Going for a nature walk

Seek Help When Needed

If your mood swings are interfering with your daily life, it’s a good idea to check in with a professional. Mental health professionals can offer evidence-based treatments like talk therapy, medications, and coping skills to help you better manage stress. 

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